The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker (10 page)

BOOK: The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker
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“She will never escape that bug bloodhound,” promised Karzz, watching his miniature monitor. “It has target-seeking sensors like a guided missile, attuned to the Wasp’s human heartbeat. The pounding of her pulse is all the robot bug needs to hang on her trail and duplicate every maneuver she makes.”

And now a deadly dogfight—between two pseudo-insects—took place.

No matter which way the Wasp darted, the miniature metallic monster followed relentlessly. When she tried a straightaway flight at top speed, the robot bug quickly began putting on steam and overtaking her.

An idea struck her. She flew toward the cave wall and darted into a crack in the stone. “It’s too narrow for him to squeeze in,” she breathed thankfully.

But outside the crack, the tiny tin terror began extending a steel-spring “proboscis,” further and further. At its end were barbs, and Karzz’s jeering voice drifted to the Wasp’s ears as he watched all this on his wrist-monitor: “Those barbs are poisoned,
ma cheri
. One touch and you shrivel into a miniature mummy.”

Wasp was forced to slip aside before the barbed nemesis could reach her, then work her way out of the crack. But now she was in the open again, at the mercy of the pursuing robot insect. Was there no escape for her? “Coward!” said Karzz mockingly to Goliath, who stood helplessly. “Why don’t you aid your girl friend? Surely a great giant like you could defeat a mere mechanical bug.”

But of course, that’s just what Goliath couldn’t do—not as Goliath. As Karzz gloatingly glued his eyes on his wrist-monitor screen, he did not notice Goliath shrinking rapidly, and vanishing.

A moment later, the Ant-Man sprang into action, scuttling across the floor to the Vulcan Machine and swiftly climbing it, with many handholds available to him in his tiny size. When he was perched somewhere near the top, on a huge pipe, he cupped his lips and called: “Wasp! It’s me, the Ant-Man. Lead that tin bug over this way.”

Hearing the shrill shout, Wasp swung up toward the pipe, the mechanical bug pursuing as he was programmed to do. Ant-Man’s shout was no warning to its one-track tape-operated computer mind.

So it was that Ant-Man was able to time a long desperate leap—and land squarely on the robot bug’s back. The force of the impact drove the artificial creature down to the floor with a metallic clank.

“Hide, Wasp!” the Ant-Man shouted. “Don’t fly. He’s only programmed to follow your flying form. If he sees nothing like that, he will stay here and slug it out with me, whether he likes it or not.”

And with that, Ant-Man unwound a terrific blow. “Right at your chin, if any,” he barked.

But the blow that had stunned a tiger beetle, and might have knocked other bugs cold, had no more effect on the heavy metallic bug than a love pat would.

Meanwhile Karzz started, and stared closely at his wrist-monitor. “So, Goliath assumed a tiny form to tackle my robot Wasp-killer, eh? Well, a twist of the remote controls, here beside the monitor, and he’ll turn into an invincible Ant-Man killer.”

The robot bug, indifferent to Ant-Man before, now turned toward him, its beady eye-sensors focusing on its new prey, according to the instructions impulsed from its alien master.

With a prodigious leap, it pounced on the Ant-Man before he could scramble back. Its saw-edged legs raked across Ant-Man’s back painfully, and two vise-like mandibles clamped shut, barely missing biting off his arm.

Then Ant-Man wrenched free and swung around, crouching, and wondering what next to expect from his formidable foe. He did not have long to wait. The robot bug buzzed into the air and came down, stinger first, ready to impale Ant-Man through and through.

With trigger-touch reflexes inherent to his size, Ant-Man sprang back. But now, as he tried to run for hiding, the buzzing mechanical creature darted down time after time with its stinger.

“And if you try changing back to your Goliath size,” warned Karzz, “I’ll sic the killer-bug back on the Wasp.” He hardly needed to add that if the Wasp took on human size, Karzz could instantly seize the helpless girl.

It was a deadly trap, no matter how Ant-Man looked at it. He kept running from the flying robot bug and its steel stinger. Before Ant-Man stretched the barren floor that to him was a mile long. Panting, he found it harder each time to avoid that aerial rapier, for his muscles were tiring.

Watching his wrist-monitor, like some Roman emperor at the arena while gladiators fought to the death, Karzz used his fingernail to touch a small switch that sent a new command to the robot bug.

“The
coup de grâce,”
spoke Karzz aloud. “Here it comes, Ant-Man. Don’t forget my mechanical flyer is really at attack plane in miniaturized bug-like form, so….”

And now, to Ant-Man’s horror, a flap opened in the side of the flying robot and a snout poked out. A miniature machine gun began spraying tiny bullets at Ant-Man, kicking up dust at his heels.

But Ant-Man’s hair, sensitive to subtle vibrations and forces, like an insect’s antennae—an attribute that automatically came with his bug size—detected something nearby. He swung that way, toward a bluish stone lying on the cave floor.

The bullet-spewing bug now slowed down to set its sights carefully for the killing salvo. But suddenly, the robot was yanked through the air by another force, and was tumbling out of control.

Karzz stared at his tiny monitor
“Caramba!
What happened? Why doesn’t it respond to my controls?”

“Because,” shouted the tiny Ant-Man, watching the killer-bug sailing at mounting speed, “that blue stone I ran toward is a lodestone, a natural magnet. And your mechanical bug, of course, has a steel body.”

Drawn inexorably to the lodestone, the robot bug crashed into it at high speed and burst apart into wires, wheels, and metallic debris.

Muttering what must have been imprecations in his native tongue, the alien poised his fingernail over a red button on the wrist-monitor. “There’s still one thing I can do…I can press the destruction button. Though the robot bug has already burst apart, within its head is a charge of radioisotopic explosive, enough to blow you to eternity, Ant-Man.”

“No…no!” cried the Wasp. But she was waiting for this—if Karzz made the wrong move. Like a tiny divebomber, she zoomed down at his hand, aiming her stingbeam.

She jabbed deep into flesh…but nothing happened. Momentarily diverted, Karzz saw the buzzing Wasp and grinned ghoulishly. “Why didn’t I yell in pain, my dear? Can you guess?”

“You’re an android,” gasped the girl, in realization. She couldn’t sting this insensitive carbon copy of Karzz and produce pain. But there was something else she
could
do….

The Wasp’s next dive aimed her sting-beam at the android’s wrist-monitor. All the drilling power struck home, shattering the screen to bits and scattering microminiature components underneath.

“My robot bug’s remote controls—wrecked!” cried Karzz.

“Right,” sang back the Wasp. “You can’t set off the destruction button now. Ant-Man is safe.”

Karzz the android—himself guided by remote controls and a monitor into which the real Karzz was staring, elsewhere on earth—seized an ordinary fly-swatter from a hook on the wall. “I’ll swat you myself….”

Swinging the swatter, Karzz suddenly turned and stopped abruptly, seeing the giant man towering before him. “Ant-Man…back in Goliath form!”

“Yes, and my anger is as big as I am.” Suddenly his arms went around Karzz, force-field and all. “After all,” rumbled Goliath, “even with that invisible shield, it’s only ten feet around.”

Yanking the Karzz android and his energy bubble off the floor, Goliath hurled them straight at the Vulcan Machine with titanic force, aiming for electronic devices within its heart.

A gigantic spark leaped forth, piercing the energy bubble and electrocuting the android into a blackened mass. It could hardly be called a corpse, since it had never been truly alive.

“Get out of the cave, Wasp!” roared Goliath now. As she ran into a side passage through which they had entered before, Goliath strode to where two limestone columns in the middle of the big cavern extended from floor to roof.

By some freak of geological processes, through eons of time, two giant stalagmites from the floor and two stalactites from the ceiling had met and merged.

Crooking an elbow around each of these natural pillars, Goliath strained mightily, knotting every muscle in his massive body. Stone creaked and groaned.

Suddenly, like a cannon shot, both limestone pillars snapped. A ceiling weakened by ages of seeping waters now began to collapse, as Goliath had surmised would happen.

With a resounding roar louder than a hundred thunderclaps, the entire cavern collapsed inward. Untold tons of rock crashed down on the Vulcan Machine, flattening it into a hissing, smoking ruin. Nothing man-made, or alien-made, could withstand that crushing force. Nor anything alive….

“Wasp,” Karzz spoke calmly at his unknown retreat far away, tuning his monitor screen to her. “Goliath didn’t accomplish anything. When the robot bug chased you away from my control board, I immediately pressed the final push button, sending the ultrasonic broadcast of trigger waves down into the world’s crust. Such sonic vibrations, as you know, follow rock strata everywhere. Thus, the destruction of my Vulcan Machine now was a futile gesture.”

Karzz’s voice rang triumphantly. “In nine days, along with earth dooms one and two, volcanic catastrophe number three will also happen, right on schedule.”

His frosty eyes stared straight at the Wasp now, and there was a curl on his lips. “But I think the end of the world, for you, has already happened—Goliath, of course, could never come out of the wrecked cavern alive.”

“You’re right,” murmured the Wasp. “Absolutely right, Karzz.”

She smiled and lifted up her palm, on which stood a tiny form. “But the Ant-Man could! No matter how many broken stones fell and piled up, there was plenty of space between then for an insect-sized man to huddle in safety, and then crawl out to freedom.”

Karzz cursed eloquently, as he watched the Ant-Man shoot up and assume his human form, alongside the Wasp.

“But I’m glad,” he said then, with a malicious grin. “It means that you will be around to die with the rest of the human race, nine days from now, when the world comes to an end. Now…
aloha.”

His floating image faded away, as a last harsh laugh rippled mockingly through the air.

“That’s true,” whispered the Wasp. “We won against the Karzz android, but lost to Karzz himself.”

“Well, at least one thing we know,” muttered Henry Pym, “is that the
real
Karzz, who was neither at Antarctica, nor here in the South Seas, must be in the Sahara. Here’s hoping Captain America can settle that inhuman monster’s hash there.”

“Let’s get back to Avenger headquarters fast,” said the Wasp, “and rejoin Iron Man and Hawkeye there. They must be on the way back. Then we can all go to Cap’s aid in the Sahara. It looks as if the big showdown will be there.”

chapter 12

Desert Danger

For many wasted hours, Captain America had been searching the vast Sahara desert.

“Three and a half million square miles,” rode the nagging thought with him; “or almost as big as the United States. It’s like searching from the East Coast to the West Coast, and from Minnesota down to Texas, for the Storm Satellite Launcher of Karzz.”

First he had made wide sweeps over the great desert in the rocketplane, peering down. But when fuel ran dangerously low, he had landed at a central spot, and then broke out the emergency jeep inside the plane. Its six-wheeled drive easily negotiating even loose sand, he had made overland forays in all directions, until even the jeep’s nuclear power unit—another Anthony Stark invention—ran low.

Finally, he had unpacked the radar gear stowed in the rocketplane to slowly scan outward in a radius of 500 miles-again by virtue of a Stark invention using radar waves that “bent” around the earth’s curvature.

Cap heard a clicking from the parked jeep. His two-way world-wide radio phone was ringing. Cap picked it up and heard Henry Pym’s voice from a transoceanic liner. “Wasp and I are heading back for Avenger headquarters.” He gave a quick résumé of their skirmish against Karzz and the Vulcan Machine.

“Hmm. So it was another android double of Karzz in the South Seas, as well as in Antarctica.”

“Right, Cap. That means you’ll run into the
genuine
Karzz. After we reach headquarters and rejoin Iron Man and Hawkeye, we’ll all four of us rush to the Sahara.”

“Okay,” responded Cap. “But meanwhile, I’ll be searching for him myself. Over and out.”

Cap’s thoughts were not pleasant as he returned to his radar scan of the Sahara. Three incredible future machines had triggered off three ghastly earth dooms. Even if Cap did succeed in halting doom number four, earth was hardly saved. Warning the authorities was hopeless. Who could stop the giant comet plunging through space toward earth? Or the mile-deep heat device that would melt the colossal Antarctic ice cap and flood the world? Or the world-wide fusillade of volcanoes that would erupt, started off by the Vulcan Machine?

“But I still want to get my hands on that world-wrecker,” Cap grated through his teeth. “He won’t escape to the future and finish his conquest of space. He’ll stay here to share the end of the world with us…so help me!”

With that vow burning through his veins, the star-spangled champion turned back to his radar screen, which now showed the outlines of an old abandoned fort, completely deserted, within a straggling oasis of drooping palms. Even the well had dried up, and the place was shunned by desert travelers. All this Cap knew from the comprehensive Sahara guidebook he had foresightedly taken along.

But where were Karzz and his rocket? Out in the hot open desert itself, where the sun’s blazing glare made radar images faint and undeterminable?

Suddenly, remembering an odd thing, Cap swung the screen back to old Fort Shahib. How could that one slender tower he had seen shine like bright
metal?
All the rest of the fort was stone grey with age.

BOOK: The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker
4.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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